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The Ties That Bind Us

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"I have told you before, little brother. You cannot marry them." 

"And I told you, I'd do it with or without your blessing." snapped Zen, slamming his hands on the desk. It didn't matter how many years had passed, his brother was as passionate about his love life as ever. He seemed completely unable to look at the bigger picture before them, and the duty that the tradition dictated. 

"And yet, here you are asking for my blessing nonetheless." Izana sighed, putting down his pen at last. "I told you, the law is quite clear on the matter. As a prince of this realm, there is absolutely no legal way in which you can marry them. Should you renounce your claim, then things might be different. Common law would support you, however I highly doubt abandoning your title would please them." 

Zen glared daggers at him, his manner turning cold as ice. It pained Izana to see his little brother like this, but as King he needed to take a firm stand. He and Haki had yet to have any children; as such Zen was still the next in line to the throne. Izana was wise enough to know that the only way to plan for the future was to keep your options open. 

"Haven't they done enough to prove themselves to you?" He said at least, "When I first told you of my plan to marry Shirayuki, you told me I had to make you my ally. That was three years ago, my feelings have only grown since then. We've passed every conniving test you've thrown our way, surprised you with the ferociousness of our love--" 

"Indeed you have." he muttered under his breath, remembering the time he'd walked in on them in the stables of all clichés. 

"-- so what possible objection could you now have?" 

"If it were simply a case of whether you could marry Shirayuki, then that would be fine. I grant you she has surprised me in both her dedication to you, and in her overall wisdom. But it is not just Shirayuki you want to marry, is it?" 

Zen bristled under his look "So it's Obi you have a problem with? Whatever happened to second chances? Obi has saved my life countless times! He is a valuable asset to the kingdom he--" 

"--and again if it were a case of just marrying Obi I would support you. However, the laws of the land are quite simple. Anyone who posses a noble title is forbidden to marry more than one person: male, female, somewhere in between, the law still applies. You understand me, I hope?" 

Zen gave a curt nod, and Izana could see at least some of the tension leave his face. 

"Lord Brother, I know how things currently stand. However, there exists plenty of precedence throughout history that demonstrates--" 

"-- men who abused their privilege. Men who saw women as chatle and forced consent on them through fear. King Crispin had ten wives, a harem that amounted to one man's petty greed and an ongoing desire for a male heir. Later it was his own daughter, Queen Yolanda who first put the law in place so as to prevent anymore future suffering. I trust that you do actually remember your family history?" 

Zen gave a weary nod. Their parents had instilled an understanding within them that history was not to be overlooked or forgotten. The mistakes of their ancestors were not theirs to repeat, and remembering their cruelty was even more important than remembering their triumphs. 

Zen hung his head, as though the weight of his own misery were a physical force pushing him down. His next words were barely a whisper, his righteous rage now sputtering out completely. "The difference is, Obi, Shirayuki and I are all very much in love. I can't just choose one of them over the other, and I equally cannot ask them to make the same choice."  

Izana steepled his fingers together and looked quizzically at his younger brother. Despite appearances, he did love him. Very dearly indeed, more so then perhaps he'd ever allow himself to let on. He remembered the boy at the gates who'd been betrayed by his first love, then been forced to witness his death at the hands of his own aid. The look in his eyes spoke of one who might never know love again. Yet here he stood now, proudly proclaiming his love for not one but two people, who in turn loved him enough to travel to hell and back. 

His gaze flipped down to the pages on his desk. He scooped the top half of them into a pile and began to rearrange the others. "I will tell you of one more thing, brother. Another law that stands in place to protect the rights of the crown. Any child born within a marriage is automatically the child of their spouse, regardless of biology." 

Zen's face went through a truly wonderful journey at the mention of children. From confusion to shock to pure embarrassment then back to mistrust. Why his brother was always so convinced of an ulterior motive he'd never understand. Of course he always had at least three ulterier motives, but he had always been completely open with Zen... in his own way. It was everyone else who needed to be wary of him. Izana let out a put upon sigh. 

" Meaning , that should, for example -- and please do not blush at this it really does not do your argument for maturity any good -- Shirayuki be married to you and her child be born with, say, brown hair, cat like eyes and an uncanny talent for mischief; it would. Not. Matter what anybody else said. The child would still be yours . Your rightful heir , with all due privileges and responsibilities there granted. That is a law that I have absolutely no intention of ever over turning."

Zen's hands at last dropped from the hilt of his sword, and closed behind his back. "So, what I am to understand, Lord Brother, is that a royal marriage may not be between three people; but a royal family may be whoever you choose it to be?" 

Izana gave him a small smile. "Something like that. Now, I have given you my answers. You have all the information you need to make your own choices. Just let me know what your answer is, weddings are such tiresome things to organise, after all." he gave a vague wave of his hand to dismiss him. 

Zen gave him a courteous farewell before heading out the room. His goodbye had sounded far more tender than Izana had expected. Yet another way in which his brother surprised me. For a second he gazed out the window that overlooked the herb gardens. He could see a flash of bright red hopping about within it accompanied by a flash of black. A smile came over Izana's face once more. 

He truly hoped Zen made the correct choice on this one. It would just be like his brother to trip over his own pride and ruin his chance at happiness. 

 

~*~ 

 

Theforest had become a place to call their own. It still stood within the grounds of the castle but there was a peacefulness to it. The three of them often met there when they needed to be alone, away from the responsibilities that haunted them. They could walk through it as though they were just another set of devoted young lovers. 

It was also where they'd agreed to meet after Zen's audience with the King. Although if things went to plan Obi might be calling him Brother for real this time, and not simply as a power move. However the concerned look on Zen's face said that things had most definitely not gone to plan.

"He said no, didn't he?" Obi guessed. Zen took a seat next to Shirayuki on the floor and hung his head. 

"And the worst part is, I completely understand where he's coming from. It's not that he disapproves of either of you," Zen hastened to add "he even said that you would make a worthy husband, Obi." 

He gave him a quizzical look, leaning further back against his tree "Did he actually say that, or are you just trying to stroke my ego?" 

"Well, his exact words were that he'd support our marriage. Which amounts to the same thing." 

"If you say so." He smirked, averting his gaze from the two of them. He had to admit, he'd been a little worried that Izana would just out right reject him as a potential brother-in-law. It wasn't as though Obi was what you'd imagine in a proper prince; some feral cat who'd stalked in out the cold. It had taken Obi long enough to accept that there were two people in this world who loved him, and who he was allowed to love in return. Who knew the red string of fate could tie three together so beautifully? 

"So assuming it's not me he has a problem with--" began Shirayuki a little tentatively. A quick glance at Zen revealed that she was most definitely not the issue either. "I guess we're to assume it's the matter of the three of us being married that causes concern?" 

Zen nodded forlornly. "There's a history of, well essentially of men being misogynistic arseholes. Rules were put into place to protect future generations, and to change those rules for us well… who knows what that might cause further down the line. Maybe not now, but in three, four generations time? To be ruler is to think of the future as well as the past." 

Obi gave a noise of agreement "Even in the present, there'll no doubt be some noblemen who decides that because you have two spouses, it means he's allowed two spouses as well. And hey! Why stop at two? Why not just pick up any woman on the street whose hair you like the colour of." He kicked the dirt and mumbled something about wanting to strangle all nobility. Zen had long learnt not to take any offence. Obi had a point, after all. 

Shirayuki bent her head and rested it against Zen's shoulder. "I suppose there's nothing that can be done then?" 

Obi stared up at the canopy, automatically planning a route up to the top. "I told you both before, I don't mind being your--" 

"If you say 'concubine' I swear I will throw you off the ramparts myself." snapped Zen, throwing a handful of dirt his way that he artfully escaped by swinging onto a branch. 

Shirayuki climbed to her feet and walked over to him with her arms clasped to her chest. "Really Obi, I understand what you mean when you say things like that… but I don't want a concubine. I escaped Tanbarun in the first place because I didn't want that as my fate, how could I put that on you?" 

"Ah, but Raj had no idea who you were beyond your pretty red hair. You know me inside and out. It's a completely different story." he swung upside down and gave her a peck on the lips that made her blush beautifully. "Ours is a love story no matter what, so screw whatever some royal idiot says on the matter." 

"Careful, that's still my brother and your king you're talking about" chided Zen, coming over to join them.

"Oh Hi Royal Idiot Number Two, how's it going?" winked Obi, earning himself a dry laugh and a deep kiss. 

"You do maybe have a point though," conceded Zen, hoisting himself up into the tree branch beside him. "Any royal marriage is as much for show as it is for love and law. Izana also pointed out that if um--" he coughed, refusing to meet his partners' gazes. "If-- well. You know…" 

"If?" asked Shirayuki, trying her best to clamber up next to Obi on the other side. Obi spotted her plight and easily lifted her up into the tree, holding tightly to her side so she wouldn't fall out of it again. All the while Zen just seemed to dart around his point in a flurry of stammered half statements. The only solution in Obi's mind was to kiss him again. It shut him up as planned and Obi could also see the calming affect his touch had on their prince. He'd never expected that to be the case. He'd spent so long as a weapon for hire, the fact that he could heal people with the same hands was as miraculous as the stars. 

Zen sighed and rested his head against Obi's shoulder, inviting himself into their unintentional tree snuggle. "Izana said, that should Shirayuki and I marry; and Shirayuki were to become pregnant… it-- it would not matter who the biological father was. The child would still be considered my heir. So-- well. If you two were to-- you know-- and become-- well. That would be okay by everyone."

Obi could see why Zen had been unable to get his words out. The same panic flushed through him too. They'd been intimate before, but always careful of any outcomes. The idea of children was something else entirely! Something Obi was most definitely not ready for. 

Perhaps someday though… 

"That's-- that's a relief to know." Stammered Shirayuki. Her hands were fisted tightly into her skirt in the manner she always did when nervous "I must confess I've been a little concerned of that myself. It's reassuring to know that should it happen then we'll be-- um. That is to say-- the child would be--" 

"--Not that I'd have it any other way!" Zen blurted out, almost toppling out of the tree. Obi easily caught him though, and righted him once more. "It wouldn't matter what the law said, it's always going to be the three of us, okay? No matter what outcome. Any child you bare has two fathers and a mother. I don't care what they look like, they're my child." There was so much passion in Zen's voice that the two of them felt quite taken aback. 

"Errr, yeah. What he said." Obi offered and Shirayuki laughed. Pressing a kiss to Obi's cheek in thanks, which Obi then passed onto Zen. 

He stretched his arms above his head, hoping that his partners wouldn't topple from the tree without his support. "Well then I think that settles the argument. You two can get married and be the Prince and Princess, and I'll be your illicit--" 

" No ." they both said firmly, and Obi rolled his eyes. They really weren't going to let him use humour as a means of defence, were they? 

"I've been thinking about it though," said Zen, looking down at his hands "what is a Royal Wedding really? Just a big party and some paperwork, right?" His partners nodded in agreement "So, what does it matter how everyone else interprets it? Or rather, what does it matter what happens before or after?" 

A soft smile spread across Shirayuki's face as her eyes glowed with sudden understanding "Zen's right. Most people in the kingdom don't even worry about legality. They'll sign the documents whenever the record keepers are next in town, but what matters is the ceremony. It's about celebrating your love with the people that matter most to you." 

"It's about our oaths to each other, and having a witness to prove that those oaths matter." Added Zen, his hand joining Shirayuki's on top of Obi's thigh. He looked a little nervously between them. Not sure what they were on about, what they'd described was just a regular wedding, right? 

"What do you say?" said Shirayuki, warm eyes flicking between the two of them. "A small handfast ceremony in the woods?" 

"Mitsuhide can preside." Zen's eyes sparkled with something that threatened to become tears. 

"We can have Kiki, and Ryu, and Garak..." 

"Everyone that matters to us. Everyone who actually cares about who we are and what we represent." 

"Exactly!" Beamed Shirayuki, her eyes also glistening with tears. "What do you say Obi, will you marry us? Marry us our way?" 

Zen's hand reached up to Obi's face and he wiped something away from his cheek. "Just say yes you idiot. Be our Royal Consort." 

There was an unexpected lump in Obi's throat. They'd just somehow described his dream wedding, a dream he'd not even known he'd had until that moment. The image was so clear to him. The flowers in Shirayuki's hair that matched the ones in their buttonholes. Their beaming grins as they exchanged their vows with their hands clasped tight together. Here, in the place that was truly their own. The only place that truly mattered.  

"Well, consort has a much better ring to it than concubine." he said at last. He paused for a second, and then let out a bubble of laughter made up of all the fear and self doubt he'd been holding inside of him. "Yes. Yes that sounds incredible."

Shirayuki kissed him first, and the second she pulled away Zen was there to take her place. He then helped them both down off the branch so they could kiss each other without worrying about cracking their heads open. 

They arranged their real wedding so it happened the week before the royal one. Everyone across the land was talking excitedly about the prospect of Prince Zen finally getting hitched. Plenty of the guests arrived for the big event had rather douer expressions on their faces. They no doubt wished that they or their relative were the one getting married to the second prince, and it pleased Obi no end to know that it was him who'd gotten there before all of them. Well, him and his wife. Wife! What a wonderful word it was. 

The wedding had been perfect. Ryu had provided them with the most beautiful of wild herbs and flowers. The bouquet smelt fantastic, and their matching flower crowns bought out the unique beauty in all of them. Yura Shigure for Shirayuki, Wisteria for Zen and Lupins for him. Maybe they shouldn't have all worked together, but somehow they did and wasn't that just exactly how their relationship was? Three people who should never have met, who should by all means never have ended up together, falling in love and vowing to stay that way. 

The ribbon that tied them was brighter than even Shirayuki's hair, a solid reminder of journey fate had brought them on; the path that had less them to where they were, and the ones they were yet to walk. But always they would do so hand in hand. Mitsuhide was meant to be the one to tie it, but he's been too busy weeping over Zen's happiness to get the words out so Kiki had taken over. She had a better handle on her emotions, though there were still unmistakable tears in her eyes. 

To everyone's surprise, even Haki, Izana and the dowager made an appearance. They claimed later to just be going for a walk in the woods, and hadn't even crossed paths with Zen and his companions.  Though everyone who mattered in their lives knew different. Obi couldn't help the feeling of relief that washed through him at the sight of them. He desperately wanted their support in this marriage-- wanted them to support him , truth be told. The nod they gave to him as he said his vows was all the guarantee he needed. They trusted him with their prince's heart as well as with his life. It was a simple gesture, but it meant the world to him. 

With a final tug on the ribbon and the ceremony was complete. They kissed each other in turn, making sure that nobody was left out. They didn't let go of their hands the whole time, and truth be told, they'd have stayed that way all day had it not been for the bucket of leaves Mukaze (who Obi guess he should now be calling 'Dad') poured over their heads as part of a wedding prank. 

They'd had a picnic there in the woods, with wine and cheeses and thick slices of freshly baked bread. It was nothing compared to the gigantic feast that was already being prepared for the Royal Wedding; but it felt all the more special because of it. 

They spent the night together in Zen's chambers. If anybody questioned it, well. What were they going to do? Force them to get married? Obi already knew that they had the full whispered support of the castle staff, there wasn't a snitch amongst them. Even Lord Haruka was wise enough to turn a blind eye. 

Obi had the best night's sleep of his life, curled up between his husband and his wife. He didn't think he'd ever really known true happiness until that day. It was a feeling he never wanted to let go of. 

 

~*~ 

 

Prince Raj was rather surprised to receive the invitation to the Royal Wedding. He shouldn't have been really, Shirayuki was officially a friend to the crown of Tanbarun. He'd given her the title with the express intent that it might aid in her relationship with Prince Zen. They'd developed an uneasy alliance over the years that had truly formed into a sort of friendship. Raj was a better person for knowing her, of that he (and everyone else around him) was certain. He cringed to think of their earlier interactions… but they were friends now. So it was only logical for him to be invited! That and the whole neighboring Kingdom thing. 

Yet he couldn't help but still hold a bit of a flame for Shirayuki. Lots of people did! It was to be expected with a woman as mangficent as her. He'd recognised the same look of longing in her bodyguard's face too. 

What was his name again? Oni? O'Mally? Oberon? Something like that. He was quite surprised to see him standing next to Zen throughout the ceremony. Wasn't it a little cruel to force him to play such a part in his unrequited love's marriage? Yet… there was something unmistakable in the man's eyes as he looked between the bride and groom. 

It wasn't the same look exactly, there was a certain difference there that couldn't be explained… but the feeling was the same. Had the poor man fallen for the prince as well?! 

The banquet had been strange too. The three of them seemed barely to part during the whole thing, only when they were whisked away by various relatives for dances were they seperated. Even during the song Raj had specifically composed for Shirayuki and Zen's first dance, the three of them couldn't help but look at each other! 

Something was very off indeed… was there an in-joke going on he didn't know about? Were Zen and Shirayuki both aware of the man's unrequited love and determined to make him suffer for it? Raj couldn't imagine what it would be like to watch the two people you were in love with marry each other and leave you out in the cold. It seemed almost barbaric. But that was just the way of things sometimes. 

Things got weirder as the evening ran down. Shirayuki had been dragged into a conversation with some visiting academics from another kingdom, leaving her husband at the whims of the other nobles. Raj didn't fancy being dragged into any such conversations himself and so wondered off onto the balcony to escape. To his surprise and panic, Zen's other two aids had had the same idea! 

He wanted to stealth out of there but his undignified yelp of surprise had already alerted them to his presence. Blasted reactions, he really needs to get back to working on his stealthing skills. Right after his horse riding skills and his swordsmanship... 

"Why good evening, Prince Raj." Bowed the Man One, "I trust you are enjoying the evening?" 

"Yes yes yes! A-- ah -- most enjoyable evening indeed. And never was there a happier couple I dare say ahahahaha!" he frantically looked around for an exit route "Sh--shouldn't you two um, well I don't want to tell you how to do your job--

"No I suppose you wouldn't." Said the Woman One rather dryly. He'd almost not recognised her in her formal ball gown. He was vaguely aware that she was some kind of nobility herself. At times like this, she was no doubt expected to pull double duty.

" Kiki , play nice." Chastised the Male One, giving her a playful shove of the shoulder. Their tone with Raj was far too familial for his rank, to be quite honest. However it was rather rude on his own part that he couldn't remember their names, even after they'd gone on one large adventure together to rescue Shirayuki from pirates. So it was all relative really. 

The Woman One, Kiki, let out a small grunt and clicked her fan in a way Raj didn't need lessons to know meant ' you have irritated me beyond belief and this conversation is now over' . "If you'll excuse me, Mitsuhide, Prince Raj, I'll be taking my leave. My fiancé should be done talking business by now, and he still owes me a dance." Her bow was little more than a bob, though Raj was too busy trying to process her words to take offence. His eyes boggled between Kiki and the one he now knew to be Mitsuhide. 

"F-fiancé?" He stammered pointing between the door she'd exited, and Mitsuhide "I'm -- I always assumed that you two --" 

Mitsuhide let out an elongated sigh and stretched his back out against the balcony railings. "Everyone seems to make that conclusion, but no. We're just friends, well-- best friends. Which in my book is more meaningful than any romance, but that's just the way I'm moulded." he smiled serenely. Raj was still trying to get over the fact that yet another one of his assumptions was false to really take any notice though. 

"So," Mitsuhide promoted after a minute of silence "are you perhaps looking for Prince Zen? I'm afraid if you are he's indisposed. I can give him a message later though, if you like." 

"Ah-- no that would be-- well. If I wanted to do that, I'd be better off talking to his messenger now, wouldn't I? His combined messenger and bodyguard! Q-quite the deal he got there." 

Mitsuhide's answering smirk made Raj more uncomfortable than he already was. Which was saying something really. "Yes, Zen got quite the deal indeed. But I'm afraid Obi is equally indisposed." 

"Well that really is a shame." laughed Raj, feeling the sweat drip down his neck. Mitsuhide continued to look at Raj expectantly, until he eventually he drooped against the balcony railings in a most unroyall fashion. "Truth be told I'm out here hiding from responsibility again. There's nothing like a wedding to get everyone else talking about marriage." 

"And nothing like seeing your crush get married to put you off on the idea." Said Mitsuhide, his tone a little too knowing for Raj's liking. 

"Ah-- well-- yes. I mean-- I wouldn't know about-- ah! Of course, that Obi fellow you mentioned! That must be why he's wandered off." 

Mitsuhide gave him another knowing look that just made him feel like a fish trapped in a net. "I wouldn't worry too much about Obi, he's not as heartbroken as you might think." 

This time Raj caught the way his gaze flickered down to the courtyard below. There, in the dim candle light were two figures clasped together in a tight embrace. They seemed to be dancing, though Raj doubted they could hear the music from down there. He leaned a little closer to the scene, trying to see if he could recognise the pair. His siblings were always after gossip, and Raj was always better off knowing about it before they did. 

The figures shifted a little further into the light and Raj caught a glimpse of white and black hair. "That's-- hold on is that--!" 

Mitsuhide gave no sign of acknowledgement, but his smile seemed to grow fonder. Raj watched on as the two figures entwine into what was unmistakably a kiss. 

"They! But he only just-- shouldn't someone be--!" 

"Someone is." Mitsuhide said calmly. "I'm here, Kiki is in the ballroom, and the only people allowed down there are trusted staff." 

"So they--" Raj looked between the pair of kissing men and then back into the ballroom where Shirayuki was laughing loudly with her herbalist friends. "I'm guessing I am to assume this is a-- um-- how do you put it-- a marriage of three parts?" 

Mitsuhide gave him a rather penetrating stare. "That's an interesting choice of words, Prince Raj. I'd be wary of who you say them to." 

Raj never liked talking to these people, every sentence felt like a riddle wrapped up in a threat. He didn't know if he should be grateful for this information or if it was some sort of punishment? Or perhaps Mitsuhide had sensed that Raj was less likely to put his foot in his mouth if he actually had all the details. 

"Are they happy together?" he asked at last. It was hard to tell when the three of them were separated like this. Yet when he thought back on the ceremony, the smile on Obi's face was just as bright as it had been on Zen and Shirayuki's. It warmed his soul to think of it that way. His own heartache felt a little better, knowing that there was another soul out there saved the pain. 

"I think their happiness can be assumed, yes. Tomorrow they go on their honeymoon to a small holiday home out in the middle of nowhere. Just the three of them." Mitsuhide added with yet another knowing look. Raj understood it this time. The three of them probably wouldn't have that many opportunities to be together as a coup-- as spouses. A holiday where nobody knew who you were? Where you could simply just be yourselves with no concern? It sounded rather wonderful. 

Raj rested his elbows on the balcony railing and propped up his chin. "Well then I hope that the three of them live happily ever after."